Surgeon George Worgan, thirty-three, improbably managed to bring a piano with him on the First Fleet. In 1790 he gallantly began to tutor Elizabeth Macarthur, telling her she’d ‘done wonders in being able to play off God save the King and Foots Minuet’ and that she was ‘reading the Notes with great facility.’
Worgan went so far as to make Elizabeth a gift of the pianoforte upon his departure in 1791.
In early 1810 Elizabeth bought a pianoforte for £85 at an auction sale, presumably because the original piano no longer served. That old piano was then lost to history … or so I thought.
When I was in Sydney talking to the people at Sydney Living Museums they kindly alerted me to the following new publication: The First Fleet Piano: A Musician’s View by Prof Geoffrey Lancaster.
It’s an enormous beast of a book, stretching over two huge volumes. I think that’s it sitting on the piano, in the photo below.
When I returned home and searched the book up, I discovered that Elizabeth’s piano was not lost at all. In fact it is alive and well and living in Western Australia, part of a collection of 130 historic pianos donated to the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) at Edith Cowan University by Sydney collector Stewart Symonds.
According to ABC Perth, the university plans to “send the First Fleet piano, along with a number of others from the collection, to master restorers in London so that the pianos, which are currently unplayable, can be used by students and researchers. They also want to send restorers from Western Australia to learn the restoration techniques, so future work on the pianos can be done locally.”
I hope they don’t restore the wonderful fingerprint marks off the keys, where it’s obvious that some were played more than others! What’s wrong with D, I wonder?
Can you go and see the piano? Well, probably, if you ask nicely, but it’s not on display. The University is currently sourcing philanthropic donations to build a space to house and display the whole collection.
Want to know more?
- I blogged about Elizabeth’s piano last year, in a post called Australian Colonial Dance.
- Try this article from ABC Perth (both photos are sourced from here)
- Or this article and clip from SBS
I do love a happy ending!